By Bob Harris
THE NATIONAL Archives is about to (a) remove Richard Nixon’s White House papers from the annex where they’re kept, (b) reduce our access to newly released Watergate tapes, and (c) pay Nixon’s estate $26 million for the privilege. Dead or alive, he’s still Tricky Dick.
The Presidential Records Act of 1978 made White House documents public property. However, a federal appeals court recently ruled that Nixon had “a compensable property interest” in his documents, and last week a federal judge ordered the Archives to return “all personal and private conversations” in the materials to Nixon’s estate. Which means a bunch of unreleased Watergate tapes will be deep-sixed unless the Archives buys them back.
Under the agreement, everything will go to a new Archives facility at the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda, which, like all such libraries, exists less to maintain the historical record than to distort it favorably. The only thing holding up the deal is that Nixon’s spawn don’t want to pay taxes on their multimillion dollar windfall. The conservatives opposed to government spending are holding their tongues on this one.
Nixon was disgraced before today’s college grads were even born, so this might seem like old news. It isn’t. Less than 2 percent of the Watergate tapes were public when Nixon resigned. Historians are still finding important new stuff on the tapes all the time:
April 1971: Nixon and White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman discussed Sen. Edmund Muskie’s campaign–having placed a spy in the Muskie camp. Nixon directed Haldeman to make “more use of wiretapping” against Democrats. A few weeks later, Nixon ordered “permanent tails” on Sens. Muskie, Ted Kennedy, and Hubert Humphrey. Haldeman assured him the operations were under way.
So the wiretaps placed in the Watergate were nothing unusual for these guys.
June 30, 1971: The very day the U.S. Supreme Court rejected his request to block continued publication of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed America’s shady involvement in Vietnam–and a year [before] the Watergate break-in–Nixon ordered Haldeman to break into the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank, to steal their files on Vietnam. The Brookings heist didn’t occur, so the next morning Nixon boomed to Haldeman and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: “We are going to use any means, is that clear? Did they get the Brookings Institute raided last night? Get it done! I want it done! I want the Brookings safe cleared out.”
Nixon never got the papers he wanted, and so in September 1971 he ordered a burglary of the National Archives itself. Finally, here’s direct proof Nixon personally authorized political burglaries. (A quarter-century too late, but what the hell.)
July 1972: Only weeks after the break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel, Nixon was plotting with his staff to cover up their link to the crime. Bottom line: Nixon knew.
Incidentally, while Republicans deny political motivations to their Clinton investigations, a 1970 Pat Buchanan memo describes an interesting talk with Nixon and Bob Dole on the subject of spin control: “Dole recommended that Republicans initiate politically inspired investigations of past mis-doings by the Democratic administration. The idea was a good one. RN [Nixon] backed it.”
I’ll say it again: Those who forget the past are condemned to listen to Rush Limbaugh.
Is Whitewater as serious as Watergate? Sure, and Booty Call has a chance at Best Picture. Beyond Nixon, Watergate and related scandals produced 41 other officials indicted or jailed, including Nixon’s vice president, attorney general, and chief of staff. Clinton’s fundraising is indefensibly, even laughably corrupt, but his wrongdoing pales next to Nixon’s laundry list: illegal use of the CIA, FBI, and IRS; solicitation of illegal contributions, extortion, and bribery; and lying to federal courts and the Congress.
And that doesn’t include Nixon’s larger crimes against humanity, such as authorizing coups d’états, prolonging the Vietnam War for political gain, and carpet-bombing Cambodia.
That Clinton and Dole could eulogize this criminal sociopath as a great American leader says only how far we have fallen. And diminishing access to Nixon’s actual record only ensures our fall isn’t over.
Once the Watergate tapes and the secrets within are sent off to be buried like a pumpkin in Nixon’s backyard, how are we supposed to see and hear the rest of our history? I guess we’ll just have to break in.
From the April 10-16, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent
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